Struggle Well

Did you know there are twins in New Zealand and their parent’s named them ‘Fish & Chips’?… True story.

Another family have 3 kids – Faith, Hope and… yeah you guessed it… Kevin! Not surprisingly ‘Fish & Chips’ has been banned as a name in NZ, along with other choice names like ‘Robocop’ (Mexico), ‘Circumcision’ (also Mexico) and a host of others.

Names matter. And while these days people want to know ‘what’s cool’ in naming, in the ancient world names carried weight and significance. They spoke to our very identity. So when Jacob from the book of Genesis was given his name – meaning ‘deceiver’ or ‘supplanter’ it spoke to who he was and how his life would be lived. His twin brother was far less significant – Esau just meaning ‘hairy’.

If you aren’t aware of the enmity that developed between these two then check it out in Genesis chs 27-32. Jacob deceived both Esau and his father Isaac and took what was rightfully Esau’s. Not cool. And not surprising that Esau wanted to kill him.

After a significant time apart Jacob believes he needs to go home and see Esau again. He is on his way when he hears Esau is coming to meet him with 400 men – which only serves to confirm his worst fears – that he is a dead man. Anticipating the worst, Jacob splits his family in half and sends them in different directions – clearly hoping that at least some of them will survive the carnage.

Jacob sends them off and then stops for a while on his own. Then follows the most bizarre but transformative encounter.

v 24 says: ‘So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.’ 

I’ve done a lot of camping, but never have I had someone approach me and ask for a wrestle! And the idea of fighting through the entire night seems equally weird. The ‘man’ (who Jacob later realises is God – or an angel of God) couldn’t ‘overpower him’, which I sense means he couldn’t get him to tap – to quit. Clearly the ‘man’ was able to end the fight as the eventual touch on the hip suggests, but he couldn’t get Jacob to quit.

Just before this encounter was Jacob’s dream – a beautiful, grace filled moment when God reaffirmed his covenant to him. God chose to use a betrayer and deceiver as the father of the nation he would call his own…

And now in this moment Jacob boldly says to the ‘man’ ‘you can’t go unless you bless me.’ He receives that blessing, along with a new name. God changes his name from Jacob to Israel – from deceiver to ‘the one who struggles with God’.

The people of Israel are those who will struggle with God. As I read that story again recently I was reminded that as the church – the ‘new Israel’ – we inherit that identity and we too are those who struggle with God.

The choice is to how we struggle. We can struggle well – honestly engaging with God, grappling with our expectations and disappointments, or we can struggle badly. We can disengage – give up the fight – or just live forever in anger and fury at a God who didn’t do all we had hoped. Or again we can live in denial – we can parade the ‘victorious Christian life’ to those who look on – we can speak the lingo – look the part, all the while disintegrating internally because our experience does not match our rhetoric.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘struggling well’ and at church we have just started a new teaching series around this theme. I love the energy it has created as people have sensed a subject with which they can really engage.

So many of us struggle.

Correction – we all struggle – it’s in our DNA – to wrestle with God in some way. But often when we speak of ‘those who struggle’ we do it in pejorative terms, as if they were our ‘bench players’, or our liabilities.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Seriously – if we are ‘those who struggle with God’, then to struggle is what we were made for. And it is actually in the struggle that we find our wholeness and our identity as the people of God. Over the next couple of months each time we gather I have invited men and women from our church community to take 10 minutes to share their journey – their story of where life is at – and usually its hard – and then to speak to us about what it looks like for them to struggle well.

These are not our bench players. These are our heroes – these are the people who have stepped into the ring and who are engaged in the fight. These are people living up to the calling God has put on us.

And if you don’t struggle?

Oh – you do – maybe you just haven’t put a name to your struggle – maybe your struggle is that you aren’t even able to see your own blind spots. That’s ok – just invite the Spirit to shine some light and you will join the rest of us pretty soon.

My great hope is that we will have a church of people who are actually real and raw about who they are, and where they have been, That will be confronting for us and maybe we’d prefer a squeaky clean, ‘stock art’ image of the Christian experience, but it just isn’t real… It is actually an illusion – a dangerous illusion.

At any given time there will be people at peace with God, wowed by God and thrilled at who God is, but there will also be people angry with God, questioning God, sooking with God. And that can make us uncomfortable. That won’t ‘look good to others…’

Easier to put on the victorious Christian life, Sunday face and just pretend. But when you do that you don’t actually get to know God.

You just play religious games. You worship a fictitious God and you miss out on the experience that awaits you if you will just dive in head first and face the struggle.

Our heroes ought not be those who appear to have it all together, rather they should be those with bloodied, tear stained faces who have hit the depths, met God there and have been able to struggle well.


I watched this series while we were in Bali last week and I’ve got to say it had some great moments and some excellent characters.

Christians of the evangelical flavour rarely get portrayed positively in media, (unless its sickly sweet) so it was really nice to see Merrit Weaver playing Detective Karen Duvall (left), a genuinely devoted Christian, alongside Toni Collette as Grace Rasmussen, a cynical, hardass who would often ridicule and belittle Duvall’s faith as well as her competency as a detective.

We first get the clue that Duvall is a Christian when we see a sticky note on her dashboard with the words ‘here am I send me’.

‘What’s that about?’ asks Rasmussen as they drive along.

It’s from the Bible.’ Duvall states. She explains that its a reminder of who she is in this world and what her calling is as a cop. When she saw darkness and evil and brokenness her response to God was ‘here am I send me’.

She sees her work as bringing the kingdom of God to earth and this is her way.


We see her attend church, just a garden variety evangelical type, but the church service is a very small part of the story. What is far bigger is who Duvall is outside of church – in the world she is part of.

We see Rasmussen callously take pokes at ‘her God’ for being so useless, as they continue to hit dead ends with the case and in it all we see Duvall carry herself with grace and strength.

To top it off we see a very good cop – who does excellent work – who cares for the people she encounters and who tries to do what is right at each point.

I think that’s what’s really important. Not that we see her go to church and sing hymns, and can therefore tick the ‘Christian’ box, but that we see her live a Jesus like life in her workplace which is as challenging as any. She is a tough, courageous woman who rights the wrongs in her world as best she is able. She is tender hearted at the same time, able to cop it on the chin and turn the other cheek when she has to, but also able to push back hard when it needs to be done.

I really liked Collette’s ‘potty mouth’ character too, but I just appreciated seeing a Christian actually being portrayed as something other than a religious nutbag. If I had to write a list of what I hope people would imagine we’d be like as we live our lives in the humdrum of everyday life then this is a pretty good picture of exactly that.

It’s Only True If…

Remember that line from your childhood? ‘Its only fun if its fun for everyone’… Kinda tricky because some people just wouldn’t know fun it bit them on the bum!

That said I was chatting with a friend today about a new blog series I have percolating about living with peace and contentment and I made the comment that I am taking my time with what I draw as ‘truths’ because I know I write as a wealthy westerner and my take on what is true may be different from that of someone in a poorer developing country.

To reframe the old statement ‘its only true if its true for everyone’.

But then that’s the nature of ‘truth’ isn’t it. It’s only true if it applies across cultures and stratas of society – otherwise its simply a perception of reality.

Makes it pretty hard to arrive at ‘hard truth’ because our context shapes our perception and one person’s hard truth is another person’s ‘how bizarre’.

It was as I was talking with another pastor one day about the ‘prosperity gospel’ and he told me he thought he might preach about it – actually with the intention to lead people in that direction.

‘What do you think Hamo?’

My first thought was ‘do you really have to ask me while I’m having dinner at your house for the first time?…’I really don’t know how to be diplomatic with this one.’ So I responded ‘Well X, the thing I find most abhorrent about the so called ‘prosperity gospel’ is what it says to my friends in poor countries who are doing it tough. The so called ‘truth’ of the ‘prosperity gospel’ may make some ‘sense’ to selfish, materialistic western religious people, but to those without privilege it must be a stench – an offense of the highest order. I just can’t see Jesus having any part of it!’

There – I told you I was going to find it hard to be diplomatic on that one…

But the fact is that unless it’s true for everyone then it surely isn’t ‘true’. So I have slowed in my thinking on what I may actually be able to write about ‘Living at Peace with Yourself’ as I’m currently filtering my ideas through the ‘can it be true for everyone grid’, otherwise it just ends up being another ‘privilege piece’.

Hopefully one day my thoughts will break thru to light of day, but for now they are under scrutiny – and will probably be even more-so as a result of this post – if I ever publish them!